Tag Archives: thailand

Observations from a TCK

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Every time someone asks me “Where are you from?” I develop quite a bit of anxiety. Most people have a one word response such as “Los Angeles”, or “Berlin”, or “Tokyo”. Simple question…should have a simple answer, right? Wrong.

I never want want to delve into my life story when I first meet someone so a lot of times I’ll just tell them where I live at the moment. And actually, my story isn’t that complicated.

I was born in Chicago, moved to Paris, France when I was 6, and grew up there until high school. In France I was always associated as being “the American girl,” but when I would visit the states I would always be known as “the French girl.” So what was I?? My passport is American, but to this day I am still left in the dust when my peers discuss American TV shows, games, and other things that they grew up with. I grew up reading Tom-Tom et Nana but also Calvin and Hobbes. The developmental years are crucial to every person and their personality. There is a certain part of the United States that I can’t quite identify with because I never learned much about it. I was taught countless times about the French Revolution, but never about any American history (until I took US History in the 11th grade). In elementary school I would get so frustrated with people telling me “oooooooo you’re so cute! say something in french!!!” My dad and I would joke how I could turn to them and list off profanities and they would just eat it up. Fortunately I was better mannered than that and mostly answered with “Qu’est-ce que vous voulez que je vous dise?” (translation: “What would you like me to say?”) At that point they were so excited that I said more than “Bonjour! Baguette! Croissant!” (like they expected) that I was let off the hook and able to go about with whatever I was previously doing. Some fun times that have happened with my best friend Catherine are when we are chit-chatting on the Métro, the bus, or other public places in Paris. Sometimes we speak to each other in just French or just English, but mostly a mix of both. We can both vividly remember times when we have heard French girls talk about us because they think we are tourists; then we switch to French and seeing their faces is pretty priceless, and always entertaining. In our defense they shouldn’t have been so judgmental since most of the time we are both decked out in full black outfits like the true Parisians that we are!

My family moved back to Chicago in 2004 (while still keeping a pied-à-terre in the 6th arrondissement of Paris) so that I could start high school in America. I went to a small private school that was just a 4 minute walk, about 2 iPod songs, away from my house. I only knew what American schools were like based off of TV shows and movies, and the thing that I was most excited for was…lockers. The simplest thing, yet it seemed so fun to me: I could decorate it, hang out near it…so American!

After high school I decided to go to one of the two West coast universities that I applied to (the rest were on the East coast or Wisconsin): Santa Clara University. Also known to many people as a the school that Steve Nash attended, the school in the movie “Bend it like Beckham”, or a country club because it doesn’t look like a real college campus. Once that happened, my parents decided to split their time between Chicago and Paris. I also studied abroad through Semester at Sea since my wanderlust is so great (see below). Why not explore as many countries as I can! I can’t even begin to tell you how many times my parents heard “Well she’s never going to come back you know?” when they told people in Chicago that I was going to school in California. But little did they know I would end up going even further…

So after all that I am now living in Thailand. I don’t even think my parents were surprised when I told them I wanted to move here. But lucky them…they get to visit me here!

Here are some observations that I have made from the 3 cultures (French, American, and Thai):

-How to eat food:

  • France: people cut with their right hand, hold the fork with their left, and do not switch hands. I grew up learning like this so I eat most of my food with my left hand (but my right hand is my dominant hand).
  • America: same deal with the cutting but people switch hands. Too much work if you ask me! I grew up watching my mom eat this way.
  • Thailand: people use a spoon and fork for all meals. Knives are rare. The spoon is the main piece of silverware in this dance and it goes in the right hand. The fork is used to assemble the food onto the spoon to then stuff our faces with delicious Thai food.

-Greetings:

  • France: people greet each other with “la bise” for most situations. It is a kiss on each cheek but mainly air kisses occur.
  • America: ahh this country has yet to figure out a proper greeting. Do we shake hands? Do we hug? Do we do an awkward wave? What if we’ve met a few times already but we aren’t good friends? It’s always an ordeal, and I am not a fan. Maybe someone needs to come up with a cool handshake for all Americans to learn and use…
  • Thailand: A “wai” is the common daily greeting. There are different levels which you can read about here. The basic rule is that you “wai” a person upon seeing them every day, so I “wai” many teachers in the mornings at school. This can be quite a difficult task if you are holding things in your arms but people understand.

-Time:

  • France: 24 hour time. 9h15 is 9am, 14h00 is 2pm, 22h30 is 1030 pm. You get the idea. Also known as “military time” to Americans. This is how all of my digital devices are set. It makes more sense in my mind and is how i learned. I have been asked many times what is wrong with my iPhone’s clock…
  • America: morning, noon, and night. Just kidding. AM and PM being used for before noon and afternoon with a 12 hour clock. I know many people who have missed morning classes and meetings due to setting their alarms to PM and not AM. Never has this once happened to me.
  • Thailand: there is a very intricate system that I don’t even know how to use yet. What I do know is that Thai people are always late. No matter what. Jessie and I were told we were going to be picked up at 930 am for a Sunday teaching job….we got picked up at 1030 am. Oh well, no worries, hakuna matata, or as they say “mai pen rai.”

-Dogs:

  • France: treated better than the children. Allowed everywhere. They run the country.
  • America: a man’s best friend. Rules and exceptions apply of course. Some say dressing up a dog as a pumpkin or a fairy on Halloween is torture, while others deem it to be alright. You can be the judge.
  • Thailand: dogs are everywhere but they ARE NOT pets. I cannot stress this enough. Just looking at most of them you will understand. They roam into the middle of the road with no common sense that they will get hit by a car. They have fleas. They are not “fixed.” There are some that are (sort of) pets. Some of the teachers own dogs. One of the dogs lives outside my house. We have named this pup “Baan-baan” and she protects the turf. Only downfall is that she sometimes barks at all hours of the night, especially to communicate to the pack of canines across the soccer/football field (and no, not American football).

I am sure I will come across many more but these are the main ones I’ve noticed right off the bat. Also, if you were wondering this whole time what a TCK is, then check this out for an explanation better than my own. I am a TCK, along with many of my friends. Here is an article that my dad wrote about it.

And here is how I keep track of some of the f*$&ing time zones…thank you Apple.

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A love story…

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No…this love story is sadly not about me.

The other day I was talking to my coordinator about who knows what. We always talk to her about the most random stuff because she is the most adorable human being ever. Her husband also works at our school and she mentioned how they met here.  She never elaborated on this, and since I’m a sucker for love stories (who isn’t!) I asked her what the background was. Here is what she said (some paraphrasing):

“We met 22 years ago when we were both starting to work here. I was actually applying to leave to go back to my hometown of Chiang Mai. He had just been accepted to work at the school from Chiang Mai….Oh at first I did not like him! He was very handsome but he was such a flirt! He wrote me little notes every day….every day! Little small notes! He gave them to the students who brought them to me. I did not answer them though! Some of them said ‘Have you had breakfast already?,’ ‘You look beautiful today’ or things like that. Finally I started answering them and realized he was very nice, and not just handsome. And now we are married!”

Clearly sending small love notes is the old school version (pun intended) of text messages. I would much rather receive the former.

Working for the weekend? Yes and no.

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After almost 2 months as a teacher, I now know that they are not, in fact, strange beings with no social lives outside of school. They do not live in closets and hibernate during non-school hours. We have lives. And in Thailand, its a great life. The phrase “working for the weekend” does not necessarily apply in these circumstances. Yes we work so we can take advantage of what Thailand has to offer, but the week days do not feel like work. The kids are great, the teachers are great. Basically it doesn’t feel like work.

Some of my M6 kids

Some of my M6 kids

Last weekend I decided to meet up with some friends in Bangkok again, but just a few of us girls, to relax and have a good social time. We did some shopping, walked around, and enjoyed the city. Saturday night Katie (a fellow teacher who works near Suphanburi) and I bought “Wolfpack” bracelets for the four of us girls. Indeed it was a wolfpack weekend. As much of a cliché as it sounds like, I even heard “One Night in Bangkok” playing from hookah bar/café.

Wolfpack bracelets

Wolfpack bracelets

This past Wednesday was Loi Krathong, the festival of lights. It is an annual celebration on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the Thai lunar calendar (this year, November 28th) that takes place all over Thailand. Loi means “to float” and krathong is the name for the offerings that are made. The krathongs are usually hand made from banana leaves and can become quite fancy. Mine was fairly simple:

My krathong

My krathong

The tradition is to send them off in the river as an offering to the river spirits and to the Goddess of Water (Phra Mae Khongkha).

Some krathongs loi-ing down the river

Some krathongs loi-ing down the river

During the release of your krathong, you are getting rid of the negativity from the past year.

Letting my worries float away

Letting my worries float away

In the same idea, lanterns are also released into the air. You make also make a wish for the upcoming year.

Lantern about to set sail

Lantern about to set sail

We have been told that if couples go to this festival together then they will break up that upcoming year, but if someone is single and asks a love interest as a date to Loi Krathong then they will end up together.

Loi Krathong love is in the air!

Loi Krathong love is in the air!

Today I finally tried the well known Thai food of mango and sticky rice. I was not let down at all. It is one of the best deserts that I have ever tasted. For some reason I had no idea that there was a cart right near where we are (temporarily) living! This is going to be dangerous.

Deliciousness being prepared

Deliciousness being prepared

nom nom nom

nom nom nom

Laem Mae Phim Beach

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After a very full week of teaching, there was just one thing on our minds: finding pina coladas. This is a difficult thing to imagine here due to the lack of any type of alcohol besides beer and whiskey. Jessie, Caprice, and I decided to venture to the beach (because who wouldn’t want to go) to find some drinks and relax.

Laem Mae Phim Beach

Laem Mae Phim Beach

We wound up swimming in the ocean, which was about bath temperature (unreal) and then banana boating which was so cheap compared to the states (100 baht or about $3.33 each). We eventually found a place that had a variety of drinks, free beach chairs, an assorted menu, and great staff. We are pretty sure that we will be frequent flyers there.

Cheers to us

Cheers to us

The sunset was beautiful, although a few Thai people asked to take pictures of us. Not WITH, just OF us. Caprice firmly told them that “we don’t do that in America” because they did seem to be a bit on the creepier side.

Trying to be like the locals

Trying to be like the locals

Besides that, all in all a good day. And the pina coladas were found and drank.

Missing my people for a second

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A few days ago, on Friday, I was in a pretty bad mood. There is no reason for me to elaborate on that but it led into homesickness and missing family and friends. What I do want to share are the 2 things that made me feel better…

  1. I talked to my coordinator (P’JIm) and she told me, “I am like your sister, do not worry, everything will be okay.” If it wasn’t going to be okay, just knowing how much she cares made me feel a bit better.
  2. Last week we met 2 Thai kids who belonged to a couple who make street food near our (temporary) hotel. The girl, Ice, is 10 years old, and the boy, Int, is 9 years old. For some reason they were completely fascinated by us (probably since we’re white), and since they were the cutest little beings ever, we couldn’t get enough of them. Well as Jessie and I were going to cross the street on Friday evening, we see these 2 small figures bouncing up and down uncontrollably, flailing their limbs about, and waving frantically while yelping “hello! hello! hello! helllllllloooo!!” It was Ice and Int. Nothing can make you feel better than being greeted in such a way. Instant warm fuzzies…

Sneaky Students for Stickers

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As a part of my lesson plan this week for my M1 students, I have decided to reward their hard work with stickers. I give them one smiley face sticker if they fill out their worksheets properly and pronounce the words correctly. I would give them more but mind you I have 10 different classes with about 35-40 students each, and limited stickers brought over from the US. These stickers are worth more than gold to me…and apparently to the kids too.

Little did I know that these stickers would turn them into little deviants. Granted the smiley faces are a good source of incentive, but some students turned right into schemers. One girl would steal her friends’ worksheets and try to come back pretending to be them. She must have thought I was blind and wouldn’t recognize her, or illiterate and wouldn’t notice that the name was different every time. She tried this 3 or 4 different times. She then proceeded to show me her backpack where she had placed her first (and only) sticker. All I could do was laugh at that point.

So if you are reading this, then please send me more stickers! It’s for the kids…(but really I would love you forever if you sent more…and so would they).

The first few weeks

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At the Grand Palace

At the Grand Palace

Since I have been here for almost a month I will try to summarize what has happened so far:

  1. I had a flight from Chicago to Narita (Tokyo) and stayed overnight. The next morning I flew to Bangkok and that is when the whirlwind started. We were told there was about 85 of us teachers at Orientation A…lots of new names and faces to remember!
  2. We began in Bangkok and were given an overview of teaching techniques for English as a second language.  We also learned about Thai culture, customs, and language.
  3. We got to visit the Grand Palace one day and see the show Siam Niramit at night.
  4. Then we moved to Kanchanaburi where we finished up the classroom preparation. We visited an elephant camp where we got to ride them, saw them perform various tricks, and also got to raft down a river. We also got to visit the River Kwai and see the location of the bridge.
  5. For dinner the last night we ate on a restaurant/barge that floated down the river…very cool. It did somehow turn into a dance party, with Gangnam Style playing every 20 minutes (they are obsessed with that song over here. Even more than anyone could imagine).
  6. After orientation week we got picked up by our various schools and were taken to our placements. It was definitely sad to say good bye to everyone after we had just spent the week together and started to make friends. Luckily we have still been in contact and are planning other travel adventures together.
  7. My school (Chamnan Sammakkhi Wittaya) is located in Klaeng, Rayong. We are about 2.5 hours south east from Bangkok, and 15 minutes from the beach. The school consists of 1,800 students, 80 teachers, about 10 English teachers…and only 3 native speaking English teachers (me, Jessie, and Lauren). We are also the first “farang” (foreign/westerner) English teachers at the school and they are over the moon excited to have us. As an example, they are building new places for us to live, complete with air conditioning and wifi (quite swanky for this area), and in the meantime we are placed in a hotel.
  8. The students: I am teaching M1 (7th grade) and M6 (12th grade). I have 10 M1 classes and 6 M6 classes…a pretty busy schedule, but its been wonderful so far. The young ones are adorable, but sometimes off the wall bonkers. However, I have been able to bribe them with smiley face stickers. Without fail I have had every single class either tell me they love me, that I am beautiful, or ask if I have a boyfriend (or all 3!) They are fascinated with the western look and stare at us 3 American teachers as if we are from another planet (in a good way).
  9. The food: so good, so cheap, and its everywhere due to street vendors. Most meals cost $1. Simply the best.
  10. Weekend trip to Bangkok: a group of us went back last weekend to reunite with other fellow teachers. It was short, but well worth it since I can now say that i ate a cricket…and a scorpion.
Scorpions that we ate on Khao San Road

Scorpions that we ate on Khao San Road

Much love to all from so far away. Stay in touch 🙂

PS: I would like to add how proud I am of my parents who figured out how to use Skype all by themselves. Go parents!

PPS: Here is a link to my other blog (http://julaybee.tumblr.com/) where I post various pictures, songs, quotes, etc. that I enjoy and that inspire me.